The power of no: a business woman holding up her hand to push back and say no to the request.No is a small but hugely powerful word that every project manager needs to use every now and then.

In an ideal world all of the stakeholders and team members would love the project manager and there would never be any need to say no to anything anyway. However, as we don’t live in that perfect world let’s look instead at when you might need to say no to a request and how to do it.

No to Scope Change

Stakeholders have a habit of asking for the project to cover things which weren’t thought of at the start. It would be nice to always be able to agree to include these but it isn’t always possible. If you start saying yes to all of the proposals that come your way then you run the risk of scope creep affecting your project. This could affect your chances of getting the piece of work to a successful conclusion. It can be difficult to find a way of rejecting scope changes without causing problems or bad feelings. The best suggestion I can make is to be honest and tell the stakeholders that you can’t afford to increase the scope of the project more. Maybe you could work with them to flesh out the extra work needing done as a separate project. Of course, saying no in this case comes after you have analyzed the request. If they only want a minor change which won’t affect the project greatly then you won’t want to say no just for the sake of it.

No to Staff Vacations

Another difficult situation you can be put in is when your team members ask for time off for vacation. Many new project managers don’t have a lot of experience with the soft skills needed to deal with staff and could find this kind of thing more difficult than writing out the project plan or a business case. No one wants to tell a member of the team that they can’t get time off but you need to weigh up the importance of having that person there. Personally I have found that having a good process in place from the start of the project is the key here. If you let everyone know that you need to approve all vacations and that there will be times when you might need to say no to some requests then no one can really get too upset when the time comes.

No to Resource Cuts

One of the worst things which can happen to a project manager is to have their resources cut. This can happen for a number of reasons and can have terrible effects. In my experience, business bosses tend to get a bit nervous when they have staff out on secondment to a project for long. Perhaps it is because they think that the person in question is enjoying it too much and might not want to go back to their real job once it is over. Whatever the reason is, it is often the most experienced and capable members of the business area who are on secondment, so there is always the risk that they get called back at some point. Even if no one else can see the effect this could have on the work it is up to the project manager to point it out and to fight for the resources they need to get the project completed successfully.

No to Changed Objectives

If you are partway through the project and are told that the objectives have now changed how can you expect to deliver what is asked for you? If you nailed the objectives in your original business plan then there should be no reason to change them now. You might need to get involved in some heavy discussions to get what you want but you can’t afford to let other people impose impossible changes on you. If the objectives need to be changed due to reasons outside of your control then the whole project needs to be looked at again. You will probably need to draw up a new project plan in order to take the changes into account. In any case, saying no to changes which are going to ruin your work to date is the only way to give yourself a chance of completing it on time. Of course, like everything else in life it is a question of choosing your battles wisely and getting what you want without (hopefully) upsetting anyone along the way.